Write On


Photo from The Guardian

1. Find a subject you care about
Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.
I am not urging you to write a novel, by the way — although I would not be sorry if you wrote one, provided you genuinely cared about something. A petition to the mayor about a pothole in front of your house or a love letter to the girl next door will do.

2. Do not ramble, though
I won’t ramble on about that.

3. Keep it simple
As for your use of language: Remember that two great masters of language, William Shakespeare and James Joyce, wrote sentences which were almost childlike when their subjects were most profound. “To be or not to be?” asks Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The longest word is three letters long. Joyce, when he was frisky, could put together a sentence as intricate and as glittering as a necklace for Cleopatra, but my favorite sentence in his short story “Eveline” is this one: “She was tired.” At that point in the story, no other words could break the heart of a reader as those three words do.
Simplicity of language is not only reputable, but perhaps even sacred. The Bible opens with a sentence well within the writing skills of a lively fourteen-year-old: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”

4. Have guts to cut
It may be that you, too, are capable of making necklaces for Cleopatra, so to speak. But your eloquence should be the servant of the ideas in your head. Your rule might be this: If a sentence, no matter how excellent, does not illuminate your subject in some new and useful way, scratch it out.

5. Sound like yourself
The writing style which is most natural for you is bound to echo the speech you heard when a child. English was Conrad’s third language, and much that seems piquant in his use of English was no doubt colored by his first language, which was Polish. And lucky indeed is the writer who has grown up in Ireland, for the English spoken there is so amusing and musical. I myself grew up in Indianapolis, where common speech sounds like a band saw cutting galvanized tin, and employs a vocabulary as unornamental as a monkey wrench.
In some of the more remote hollows of Appalachia, children still grow up hearing songs and locutions of Elizabethan times. Yes, and many Americans grow up hearing a language other than English, or an English dialect a majority of Americans cannot understand.
All these varieties of speech are beautiful, just as the varieties of butterflies are beautiful. No matter what your first language, you should treasure it all your life. If it happens to not be standard English, and if it shows itself when your write standard English, the result is usually delightful, like a very pretty girl with one eye that is green and one that is blue.
I myself find that I trust my own writing most, and others seem to trust it most, too, when I sound most like a person from Indianapolis, which is what I am. What alternatives do I have? The one most vehemently recommended by teachers has no doubt been pressed on you, as well: to write like cultivated Englishmen of a century or more ago.

6. Say what you mean
I used to be exasperated by such teachers, but am no more. I understand now that all those antique essays and stories with which I was to compare my own work were not magnificent for their datedness or foreignness, but for saying precisely what their authors meant them to say. My teachers wished me to write accurately, always selecting the most effective words, and relating the words to one another unambiguously, rigidly, like parts of a machine. The teachers did not want to turn me into an Englishman after all. They hoped that I would become understandable — and therefore understood. And there went my dream of doing with words what Pablo Picasso did with paint or what any number of jazz idols did with music. If I broke all the rules of punctuation, had words mean whatever I wanted them to mean, and strung them together higgledy-piggledy, I would simply not be understood. So you, too, had better avoid Picasso-style or jazz-style writing, if you have something worth saying and wish to be understood.
Readers want our pages to look very much like pages they have seen before. Why? This is because they themselves have a tough job to do, and they need all the help they can get from us.

7. Pity the readers
They have to identify thousands of little marks on paper, and make sense of them immediately. They have to read, an art so difficult that most people don’t really master it even after having studied it all through grade school and high school — twelve long years.
So this discussion must finally acknowledge that our stylistic options as writers are neither numerous nor glamorous, since our readers are bound to be such imperfect artists. Our audience requires us to be sympathetic and patient readers, ever willing to simplify and clarify — whereas we would rather soar high above the crowd, singing like nightingales.
That is the bad news. The good news is that we Americans are governed under a unique Constitution, which allows us to write whatever we please without fear of punishment. So the most meaningful aspect of our styles, which is what we choose to write about, is utterly unlimited.

8. For really detailed advice
For a discussion of literary style in a narrower sense, in a more technical sense, I recommend to your attentionThe Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White. E.B. White is, of course, one of the most admirable literary stylists this country has so far produced.
You should realize, too, that no one would care how well or badly Mr. White expressed himself, if he did not have perfectly enchanting things to say.

In Sum:

1. Find a subject you care about
2. Do not ramble, though
3. Keep it simple
4. Have guts to cut
5. Sound like yourself
6. Say what you mean
7. Pity the readers


Write & Wrong

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“Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.” – David Ogilvy

“Write drunk, edit sober.” – Ernest Hemingway

What Hemingway was getting at here was this: writing and editing were not meant to occur at the same time. They require totally different states of mind. When you write, you should be loose, ambitious, and open-minded. Follow your creative instincts. Let the words flow. Let the story take you where it wants. When editing, you need to get tough. Scrutinize your work. Find the heart of the story and carve away everything else. Be brutal.

“The first draft of everything is shit.” – Ernest Hemingway

“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” – Elmore Leonard

“In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” – William Faulkner

“You can fix anything but a blank page.” – Nora Roberts

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time — or the tools — to write. Simple as that.” – Stephen King

If you’re having trouble writing or coming up with stuff to write about, maybe it’s because you haven’t been reading enough. Reading other great work comes with a host of benefits. It inspires you to achieve great heights with your own writing. It activates your creative mind by stirring up themes, issues, and plots inside your brain. And it teaches you about the craft of storytelling.

Simple is genius, brevity is beauty. Like Hemingway says: “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

First thing you want to do is to delete your first two paragraphs. Then reread the article and add just one single sentence instead of these paragraphs. Sometimes you don’t even have to add anything.

An hour in the morning is worth two in the evening. Go to sleep and then look at your copy in the morning. You’ll understand that some parts need to be changed even if they seemed ideal the evening before.

Master the art of storytelling. You may find a lot of new ideas to craft a cool story about your brand.

Doubt yourself. Doubting that your copy is great is the best way to make it better.

“Start off with ‘Dear Charlie,’ then say, ‘this is what I want to tell you about.’ Make believe that the person you’re talking to is a perfectly intelligent friend who knows less about the product than you do. Then, when you’ve finished writing the copy, just cross out ‘Dear Charlie’.”

Okay. Now. How many ways are there to say that?


And I Quote


“Let us prove to the world that good taste, good art, and good writing can be good selling.”  —William Bernbach

“The first draft of anything is shit.” —Ernest Hemingway

“Copy is a direct conversation with the consumer.” —Shirley Polykoff

“Resist the usual.” —Raymond Rubicam

“Consumers do not buy products. They buy product benefits.” —David Ogilvy

“In writing good advertising it is necessary to put a mood into words and to transfer that mood to the reader.” —Helen Woodward

“Nobody reads ads. People read what interests them. Sometimes it’s an ad.” —Howard Gossage

“The best way to get a good idea is to get a lot of ideas.” —Linus Pauling

“Creative without strategy is called ‘art.’ Creative with strategy is called ‘advertising’.” —Jef Richards

“We want consumers to say, ‘That’s a hell of a product’ instead of, ‘That’s a hell of an ad.’” —Leo Burnett

“The secret of all effective advertising is not the creation of new and tricky words and pictures, but one of putting familiar words and pictures into new relationships.”  – Leo Burnett

“I don’t know how to speak to everybody, only to somebody.” Howard Gossage

“Copy is not written. If anyone tells you ‘you write copy’, sneer at them. Copy is not written. Copy is assembled. You do not write copy, you assemble it. You are working with a series of building blocks, you are putting the building blocks together, and then you are putting them in certain structures, you are building a little city of desire for your person to come and live in.” – Eugene Schwartz

“The most powerful element in advertising is the truth.”  —William Bernbach

“Make it simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.”    –  Leo Burnett

“Powerful copywriting isn’t always flowery or complex. In fact, some of the best-known marketing is incredibly basic; like Nike’s “Just Do It,” or IBM’s “We Make It Happen.”

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;” your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

A mediocre idea that generates enthusiasm will go further than a great idea that inspires no one. – Mary Kay Ash

There is no such thing as ‘soft sell’ and ‘hard sell.’ There is only ‘smart sell’ and ‘stupid sell. – Charles Browder

A good basic selling idea, involvement and relevancy, of course, are as important as ever, but in the advertising din of today, unless you make yourself noticed and believed, you ain’t got nothin’.   – Leo Burnett

Sometimes the most important job advertising can do, is to clarify the obvious. – Jay Chiat

Playing safe is probably the most unsafe thing in the world. You cannot stand still. You must go forward. – Robert Collier

There are no rules here – we’re trying to accomplish something. – Thomas A. Edison

We don’t want to be something for everybody, we want to be everything for some people. – Carlos Ghosh

Advertising is Salesmanship in Print. – John E. Kennedy\

Good artists copy. Great artists steal.  – Pablo Picasso

Let’s try honesty.  – John E. Powers\

What do you want from me? Fine writing? Or do you want to see the goddamned sales curve stop moving down and start moving up?   – Rosser Reeves

Resist the usual.  – Raymond Rubicam

Copy Styles

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1. Plain copy

The most basic approach to writing effective copy is to simply introduce the product without gimmick or style. It’s a simple presentation of the facts and benefits. There is no story. There is no conversation. There is no “sizzle” and no superlative claims.

2. Storytelling copy

Everyone loves a good story. We like hearing about people — especially interesting people. People who’ve suffered challenges we can relate to, and can tell us how they overcame those challenges. And the moral of the story, coincidentally, is that your product was the catalyst to overcoming those odds. You might find this storytelling technique in an email series, a landing page, or a short video.

3. Conversational copy

John Caples calls conversational copy “You and Me.” In this style of copy, you write as if there is a conversation between two people: the copywriter and the prospect. The language here would be no different than a salesman sitting down for lunch with a customer and talking through a sales presentation. It’s a straightforward approach that tries to identify with the reader: I know how you feel. I felt the same way. That all changed when I found x, y and z. Keep in mind that you don’t have to be a polished copywriter to create effective conversational copy. Often the sheer passion for what you’re trying to promote breathes off the page. In fact, you can record a conversation about the product, transcribe that conversation, and use it as a rough draft.

4. John Lennon copy

When John Lennon asked us to imagine there was no heaven or hell, no countries, religion or war, he was using an effective tool of persuasion: imaginative copy. As an advertiser, you can ask your target audience to imagine a painless way to lose weight, or what it would feel like to be a successful travel writer. Imaginative copy typically begins with words like “imagine,” “close your eyes,” “pretend for a moment,” “discover,” or “picture this” in the first paragraph of the text. In this example, you are asked to imagine your life in a certain way — to pretend what it would be like to live your dream, whatever that dream might be. Then the copywriter paints a picture of achieving that ideal life through your product.

5. Long copy

The fundamental premise behind long copy is “The more you tell, the more you sell.” Ads that are long on facts and benefits will convert well. Why? Unlike a face-to-face conversation with a salesperson, a written ad has only one chance to convert a reader. If you get in front of the reader, you’ve got to lay it all out on the table.

6. Killer poet copy

Here at Copyblogger we love Ernest Hemingway and David Sedaris. But we aren’t so enamored by their writing abilities that we try to imitate their styles at the expense of teaching and selling. Our goal isn’t to convince our audience that we’re smart — it’s educating andselling with our copy. As David Ogilvy once said, “We sell, or else.” But we try to sell with style. We try to balance the killer with the poet. Killer poet copy sees writing as a means to an end (making a sale), and the ad as an end in itself (beautiful design and moving story). In other words, the killer poet combines style with selling. Creativity with marketing. Story with solution.

7. Direct-from-CEO copy

It’s a known fact — third-party endorsements can help you sell products. But it’s equally effective to position your selling argument as a direct communication between the company founder and his or her customer. This down-to-earth approach levels the playing field. It telegraphs to the customer, “See, the CEO isn’t some cold and remote figurehead interested in profit only. He’s approachable and friendly. He cares about us.”

8. Frank copy

Some copy will explain the ugly truth about the product. This approach doesn’t start with the jewels of your goods — it’s going to start with the warts. When selling a car, you might point out the endless repairs that need to be done — thin brake pads, leaky transmission, busted sway bar, and inoperable dashboard — before you introduce the leather seats, Monsoon stereo system, sun roof, brand-new tires and supercharged engine. What you’re saying is this car will need a lot of TLC. You might even go as far as to say, “Make no mistake here — there’s much work to be done here.” And here’s a curious thing: when you are honest and transparent about product weaknesses, the customer trusts you. When the reader trusts you, they will be considerably more likely to believe you when you point out the good qualities of your product.

9. Superlative copy

There are also times when you can make outlandish claims. Claims like (these are actual ads): • “A revolutionary material from this Nevada mine could make investors a fortune in 2013″ • “Stores across U.S. selling out of what some call a new ‘miracle’ diet fighter” • “Obey this one weird loophole to get car insurance as low as $9″ But you can only make extraordinary claims when you have the proof to back it up. The evidence can be in statistics, testimonials, or research — or preferably all three. The problem with superlative copy is that it’s often hard to make outlandish claims and not sound like you are hyping it up — so use this type of copy sparingly. Generally, it’s good to follow the “Remove All Hype” policy.

10. Rejection copy

Rejection copy turns conventional wisdom on its head. and tries to discouragepeople from being interested in your product. This type of copy is a direct challenge to the reader that leverages the velvet rope approach — the idea that only an exclusive set of people are invited to use a product. The American Express Black Card is a good example here — this card is reserved for the world’s wealthiest and most elite. The only way you can get your hands on one is if you are invited. Similarly, consider the dating site Beautiful People. If you want to be part of this exclusive dating club made up of “beautiful” people, then you have to be voted in by existing members: Potential rejection startles readers — they don’t expect to be turned down, especially not from an advertiser. This approach also keys into our sense of wanting to belong. It generates that curiosity itch and activates our pride. We think, “How dare they say I might not be good enough to get into their club? I’ll show them.”

In the end, great copy often combines several of these techniques into one ad 10 Ways to Write Damn Good Copy